The Rise and Fall, and Rise of the Leadoff Man

7 08 2007

by maddness

Remember the years when every baseball team had a prototypical leadoff hitter?  Vince Coleman, Mookie Wilson, Harold Reynolds, Brett Butler, and of course, Rickey Henderson are all pioneers of the spot in the batting order. It seemed that among every World Series Champion stood a loveable, character-type guy; a guy fans loved to cheer for, the leadoff hitter.
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Always accompanied by a nickname or a special quirk at the plate or on the field, the leadoff hitter is easily identified with by young children warming up to a game, looking for a sports hero. Guys like Mookie Wilson and Vince Coleman may not have been the best all-around talents on their championship teams, but ask a young fan of those teams who their favorite player was and the guy at the top of the lineup will frequently be brought up.

When Coleman, Wilson, Butler and company saw the end of their careers, the world simultaneously saw an absence of the prototypical leadoff hitter in baseball. What is now referred to as the “Steroid Era” said goodbye to 70-80 stolen bases in a season, said goodbye to bunting for a base hit, and said goodbye to any player who boasted “small ball” tendencies. Out was Brady Anderson stealing bases, and in was Brady Anderson hitting 40+ homeruns. Out was Rickey Henderson at the top of the Oakland A’s batting order, and in was Jeremy Giambi penciled in at the top. Guys who were already star leadoff hitters felt pressure to become power hitters, diminishing Major League Baseball’s supply of speedy, leadoff style players. Barry Bonds was a terrific leadoff hitter at the start of his career, always on the verge of 40/40, and a fantastic On-base Percentage. Bonds’ career direction is obvious, but how many of the players now considered “sluggers” would have directed their attention to becoming All-Star leadoff hitters if the game of baseball welcomed that type of player?

Enter Bud Selig, who is at least going through the motions of making the public think he is cracking down on steroids and performance enhancement drugs. While it is not certain MLB is completely dedicated to erasing the “Chicks Dig the Longball” stigma, it is at least a little bit more “out there” for people to see. Homeruns have declined greatly in 2007, forcing the game of baseball to look again to a spot in the order that once helped carried some of the superstar load. The 2007 season is proof that “small ball” is back, as each team in contention at the start of August, minus the Red Sox, has a player shining in the leadoff spot. Baseball has a new set of pioneers; pioneers of a “re-birth” of sorts. One of the men below could be leading off a close-out game of the World Series, and general managers who didn’t make the playoffs should not ask why, but instead look no further than the first name he writes on his card. We look at several of the contenders and their guys holding down the top spot in style.

Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners
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.343, 5HR, 45RBI, 30SB

Jose Reyes, Mets
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.303, 8HR, 45RBI, 50SB

Jimmy Rollins, Phillies
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.291, 20HR, 66RBI, 21SB

Curtis Granderson, Tigers
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.298, 16HR, 53RBI, 14SB

Chone Figgins, Angels
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.339, 1HR, 38RBI, 29SB

Alfonso Soriano, Cubs
capt58e4ceab03ac4b49aab13802a0f07590nationals_cubs_baseball_cxc107.jpg
.297, 18HR, 42RBI, 18SB

Corey Hart, Brewers
capt1615aa6cf3724607b9eb6ff0b156e8fcphillies_brewers_baseball_widh102.jpg
.280, 18HR, 48RBI, 18SB

Grady Sizemore, Indians
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.280, 19HR, 62RBI, 28SB

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